The Pittsburgh City Council has referred a series of proposed amendments, which would create “mineral extraction districts” and possibly open the city to at least limited Marcellus Shale drilling, to the city’s planning commission.

The proposed amendments, Nos. 756 through 759, were submitted by Councilman Patrick Dowd (D-7th district) on Sept. 24 (see Shale Daily, Sept. 26). On Wednesday, the amendments passed the muster of the city’s standing committee.

“I think it’s important that we have this legislation before us now,” Dowd said Wednesday. “It’s the first time in many, many, months that we’re legally allowed to do this. It’s an opportunity for us to make a political statement that we believe in zoning. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for us to consider a bill, or a set of bills, which are designed to protect the health and safety of citizens and due process of property owners.”

If approved by the planning commission, at least one public hearing would need to be held on the proposals.

The city council voted to ban fracking in 2010 (see Shale Daily, Nov. 17, 2010). Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl favors the ban’s repeal, but City Council President Darlene Harris supports the ban and said she won’t bring it up for a repeal vote. She also backed filing a legal brief in support of the municipalities fighting Act 13, Pennsylvania’s omnibus Marcellus Shale law, in court (see Shale Daily, Sept. 19; Sept. 13).

“In 2010 we were shocked to learn that gas companies were leasing land,” Dowd said. “And at that time, we went as council members to those companies and tried to talk with them to try to understand what was going on. These companies weren’t the Chevrons and the Exxons… these were smaller folks. And they were unwilling to discuss with us anything that they were doing and they were unwilling to state their intentions. And as a council, there was a lot of sentiment regarding a ban. And at that time, I shared that sentiment because there was a lot of anxiety and confusion about what was going on then.”

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith (D-2nd district) said she supported job creation but had some continuing concerns.

“I have not had one conversation with the mayor about lifting the ban,” Kail-Smith said Wednesday, adding that she thought it was “fascinating that we haven’t heard from any of the drilling companies.

“There’s a lot of concern here…[but] I also don’t want to miss the opportunity for jobs in the City of Pittsburgh. In this economy we want to see people working. I just have some issues with the whole drilling in general, to be honest with you, but I think that it’s worth a conversation.”

Ricky Burgess (D-9th district) concurred and said he supported Dowd’s proposals. “I am nuanced about extraction in general,” he said. “I think there are places, perhaps, where [drilling] is appropriate. But I am convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that drilling should not occur within the city limits. Not for the next 20 or 30 years, it should not.

“I think this is a reasoned approach. Unfortunately, on this issue a lot of rhetoric replaces reason. And unfortunately there are some who fear monger for whatever reason.”

Harris said she was “looking” at Dowd’s proposals, but didn’t indicate whether she supported them or was opposed. She repeated that she favored the current ban.

“I’ve never been against any industry,” Harris said. “However, every industry that I know has had regulations. For some reason, this industry has not had the regulations.”